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Hostages to the situation. Why absolute military superiority is not enough for Israel to deal with Hamas

The world is witnessing another outbreak of hostilities between Israel and the terrorist organization Hamas, which has been in control of the Gaza Strip, part of the Palestinian Authority, since 2007. It is a very strange war that flares up every three or four years (the previous escalations occurred in 2019 and 2014) but never leads to victory for either side. At the same time, Israel has absolute military superiority, its air force controlling the airspace over the conflict zone, its ground forces equipped with armored vehicles, which Hamas does not even have a trace of. It would seem that the outcome of the confrontation is a foregone conclusion.

But no: as in the previous periods of military escalation, wave after wave of missiles launched from the Gaza Strip hit residential districts of Israeli cities. The country's military leaders are merely discussing the possibility of a ground operation, limiting themselves to massive airstrikes in Gaza and the interception of missiles launched by Palestinian militants. Moreover, it is clearly Hamas which takes the initiative. Its leaders get to decide whether to continue the rocket attacks and issue ultimatums to Israel.

The classical theory of deterrence suggests that if one of the opposing sides knows that the adversary can cause it unacceptable damage, it is then forced to refrain from attacking. It may seem that the current situation refutes this theory. However, the problem is that Hamas and Israel have completely different ideas on what damage is unacceptable. The terrorist organization is not at all concerned about the casualties in the Gaza Strip or the damage to the infrastructure inflicted by Israeli air strikes. The more losses, the better (and according to the official data of the Palestinian authorities, there are more casualties among civilians in Palestine by an order of magnitude).

Hamas is not at all concerned about the casualties in the Gaza Strip — the more losses, the better

Indeed, as a result, Hamas has been building up its moral capital on the eve of the upcoming elections in the Palestinian Authority: there will be something to present to the conservative regimes of the Persian Gulf. Israel, on the other hand, is constrained not by the power of the enemy, but by its own ideas about humanity. Every loss of life is unacceptable damage to it. And not only Israeli lives, but also the lives of civilians in the Gaza Strip. Therefore, before targeting a skyscraper, where the Hamas intelligence services were located, the Israelis warned in advance about the airstrike to avoid casualties among the civilian population. Terrorists, on the other hand, deliberately attack residential areas of Israeli cities.

These factors neutralize Israel's ostensibly absolute superiority in armaments. Hamas's main type of weapon is rockets, which they can use for airstrikes against Israel. The first rocket fire came from Gaza in October 2001. The Palestinians then used the homemade Qassam rocket. It took several months for these unguided missiles to reach the Israeli city of Sderot, 4 kilometers from Gaza. In fact, the Qassam rocket is a metal tube (the initial model was about 70 cm long, later variants were up to 2 meters long), which is propelled by a potassium nitrate charge. Its range can be up to 18 kilometers. There is practically no guidance system. When first used, the rocket was simply launched into the densely populated areas of Israeli cities to increase the chance of hitting the target. Although the militants have made significant progress in missile development since then, they still do not care too much about accuracy. Other home-made rockets - Quds-101, Sedzhil-55 or Grad-type multiple launch rocket systems - are almost as primitive but have a slightly longer range. According to experts, Sedzhil-55 can travel 50 kilometers.

1. The Hamas rocket arsenal 2. Hamas missile ranges
1. The Hamas rocket arsenal 2. Hamas missile ranges

Despite the obvious shortcomings of homemade missiles, Hamas continues to produce Qassams, Quds and Sedjils to this day, although a lot of them are still unable to reach Israel. To make more sophisticated weapons, large production facilities will need to be built within the tiny Gaza Strip. The risk of them being eventually discovered by Israeli intelligence and destroyed is very high. As for the jerry-built Qassams and Quds, they can be made in the most primitive workshops, which are numerous in Gaza. Hamas has no difficulty in resuming production after a bunch of such workshops are destroyed. It is the primitive low-grade weaponry that makes up most of the terrorists' arsenal. Thanks to it Hamas can carry out massive bombing.

However, in recent years the Hamas leadership has declared that it has mastered the manufacture of more modern and long-range missiles, such as the M-75, J-80, R-160 and A-120 (the letter is the first letter of the name of one of the terrorist commanders killed in action and the number is the proposed range). This year, militants for the first time used the A-120 missile, which could theoretically reach any point within the territory of Israel. In fact, all modern Hamas missiles are clones of Iranian or Syrian missiles (which in turn are clones of Chinese and North Korean missiles). According to experts, Iran plays a key role in enabling Hamas to produce missiles in the Gaza Strip. Media reports suggest that Tehran has been training Hamas specialists on its territory in the production and combat use of missiles.

Iran plays a key role in enabling Hamas to produce missiles in the Gaza Strip

In addition, despite the Israeli blockade of the territory, the terrorists have managed to smuggle a small number of foreign-made missiles. These are the Iranian Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 rockets (with a range of up to one hundred kilometers), and the Syrian M-302 (up to 200 kilometers). It is a well-known fact Israel has been waging a real «tunnel war», seeking to destroy the channels through which these missiles and their components entered the Gaza Strip. The Egyptian government has repeatedly stated that it has been suppressing the smuggling of weapons from its territory in every possible way. However, arms shipments to Gaza continue, albeit on a limited scale. According to media reports, this time around in addition to missiles Hamas managed to replenish its arsenals with Iranian drones, one of which was shot down by the Israeli missile defense system.

Hamas missile attacks are countered by Israel's unique Iron Dome missile defense system. It is worth mentioning the State of Israel possesses the Hetz medium-range missile defense system and the David's Sling system designed to intercept operational-tactical missiles. Many countries have similar missile defense systems. However, only Israel has a system capable of intercepting artillery shells and multiple rocket fire. And it is not just about the clever design of the Iron Dome invented by Raphael. No other country has tasked its military industry with creating such a system. On the battlefield, it is much easier and cheaper to suppress the enemy's launchers (according to various estimates one Iron Dome interceptor missile costs from $20,000 to $100,000, which is several orders of magnitude more expensive than the Qassam rocket it is set to destroy).

However, Hamas is placing its missile launchers directly in residential areas, and it is not an easy task to detect and destroy them. Moreover, any commander on the battlefield understands which objects and units can be attacked by the enemy and tries to disguise them. Hamas, on the other hand, deliberately targets all of Israel's population centers. It is impossible to hide an entire country. Each of the dozen batteries in the Iron Dome system has its own radar targeting center and four launchers. Within fractions of a second after having become aware of a rocket or Grad attack, the computer calculates the trajectory (Hamas's missiles are not yet capable of maneuvering in flight), determines whether the missile threatens a population center, and launches the interceptor. Currently, Israel is selling the Iron Dome to the United States.

Sirens blared in the coastal Israeli city of Ashkelon as the Iron Dome missile defence system intercepted rockets in the sky

However, it is apparent that despite its technical perfection the defense system is not fully capable of stopping terrorists. The start and the conclusion of the peculiar war between the Jewish state and the terrorists is determined by the number of missiles the terrorists have. As soon as Hamas manages to accumulate 10-12 thousand missiles (this happens every three or four years) terrorists begin massive shelling. As soon as the missile stock is depleted, hostilities cease. The Israeli Air Force is now launching massive strikes against Hamas's infrastructure hidden in underground bunkers and tunnels. In 2014, the Israelis managed to destroy two-thirds of Hamas's missiles in warehouses. If this feat can be repeated, the war will end quite soon.

This text is also available in Russian

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